2013-10-24

Co.Exist

Could This Reusable Takeout Box Change The Way Cities Eat?

The BizeeBox lets you take your food home without worrying about the impact.

If you’re the type of person who eats out often, you’re probably familiar with the problem of fridge rot. It’s the plague of many a takeout container, especially if they tend to get soggy and leak mystery juice all over the shelf. Then there’s the issue of disposal, as those containers—recyclable or not—often end up in the trash.

Two Ann Arbor-based entrepreneurs, Rich Grousset and Phel Meyer, say they’ve developed a solution for takeout boxes in the waste stream, or even in the fridge. While biodegradable options are still one-use containers that too often end up in landfill, their BizeeBox offers durable polypropylene containers that can be used, microwaved, refrigerated, and washed up to 350 times. This month, Grousset and Meyer have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a pilot in Ann Arbor, but after, they're looking to expand to cities across the country.

Here's how it works: You go to your favorite dinner spot, order too much pad thai, and go home with a BizeeBox. When you're done eating cold leftovers for breakfast, you can drop off the BizeeBox at receptacles located throughout the city. BizeeBox then collects those boxes, washes them, and redistributes them to restaurants. If you run past your 30-day ownership limit, then there's a replacement fee—after which the BizeeBox is yours to keep, like an especially forgiving container library. It's recyclable, too.

Reusable takeout containers aren’t a new idea. In 2011, a Portland company launched GO Box, a reusable container program targeted to the city's many mobile food trucks. Several universities, such as the University of Mary Washington, Ashland University, and the University of Vermont, also have reusable boxes for students' meals. In 2012, BizeeBox received a grant from the University of Michigan to launch a pilot in its eating halls. While Grousset and Meyer ran the experiment in just one student café, they found that after just a week, half the takeout students started using BizeeBox for their food.

"It took off really quickly, and we learned that people really didn’t want to be generating the waste, but they just didn’t have any other option," Grousset told Co.Exist.

BizeeBox worked on campus because the student café already had a dishwashing facility and receptacle for the used containers. But in order to bring BizeeBox to new businesses, Grousset and Meyer need a dishwashing homebase. Getting businesses used to the old way of doing things to transition to a reusable box will also be a challenge: Grousset says that the price of BizeeBox is comparable to a single-use biodegradable box, which is more costly than the flimsy foam kind. As incentive-in-kind, however, Grousset plans on offering businesses direct marketing opportunities through BizeeBox users—they're hoping to roll out an app for that, among other things, too.

"There comes the thing where we think we’re going to be the first ones to do," Grousset explained. "We’ll be able to scan containers using a smartphone, or a regular scanning devices like grocery stores have. It’s what we believe to add the extra layer of value to everyone."

The BizeeBox app would also allow users to track BizeeBox ownership. But Grousset and Meyer have yet to figure out whether that means a QR code on the box itself, or some other kind of technology—maybe RFID. Whatever they decide on, it can't be too expensive, or big enough to pick up stray bacteria.

Currently, BizeeBoxes come by way of Houston, and are manufactured in China. As more businesses start using BizeeBox, however, Grousset anticipates the cost of the operation will come down, and he'll be able to start producing BizeeBoxes on home turf.

Grosset added that BizeeBox is also designed to be scalable. Once BizeeBox launches in schools, hospitals, corporate cafeterias, and Ann Arbor restaurants, one day, the business hopes to take on New York City. It's an ambitious plan for a city that's just beginning to learn to share its bikes, and has failed to pass a plastic bag free. But what kind of Big Idea doesn't go after the biggest catch? "We like biodegradable boxes, we just imagine a better future where these things could be used 300 times and then recycled," Grousset said.

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